GIG HARBOR, Wash. - Now that "Cash for Clunkers" deals are gone, many buyers may be turning to Craigslist in their search for a bargain on a used vehicle.The KING 5 Investigators have uncovered a crime ring where vehicles can quickly turn from a bargain into a break-down.
Dan and Maye Wilson of Gig Harbor were snared last month.
"So this is the 1991 Tioga motor home we bought a few weeks ago for $6,900," Dan Wilson said. "The plan for the RV was to fill every nook and cranny that we could with as much medical equipment as we could, get it down across the border to Mexico and get it to the villages where it's so much needed. We take wheelchairs, walkers. We take blood pressure machines and breathing machines."
All the equipment was donated locally for a "Mission of Mercy" to Jalisco, Mexico. The Wilsons are part of a charity group that helps supply a non-profit medical clinic in Mexico.
But the RV that was supposedly in "good condition" started having serious problems within days, including a blown water heater.
Dan Wilson had to tell his wife the charity mission was off.
"He basically said 'I think we got ripped off,'" Maye Wilson said.
That's a feeling that many buyers may have after dealing with a ring of men the KING 5 Investigators tracked late this summer as they peddled RVs and lies, mostly in the Puyallup area. As the season winds down we've noticed they're moving from selling RVs to cars on Craigslist.
"Anybody buying an RV, anybody buying a vehicle, watch out," Dan Wilson said.
Online we found hundreds of photos the ring posted, indicating sales numbers that would make a dealership envious. However, none of the men has the state required dealer's license, including 20-year-old Michael J. Ristick.
While trying to make a sale to two men, Ristick had claimed a1993 Jamboree RV had major engine work done.
When approached by the KING 5 Investigators, Ristick said:"I have no comment. Get out of my RV."
Ristick claimed to be selling for his father-in-law, which would explain why his name wasn't on the RV's title.
So we tracked down the name on the paperwork and found the Redmond couple that sold the RV to Ristick a week earlier after disclosing a leak in the roof.
It was listed in "excellent" condition in Ristick's recent Craigslist ad and selling for twice the price.
It seemed like such a bargain, the potential buyer drove all the way from Yakima.
"I think I'm gonna hop in my truck and go looking a little further," said Mike McClellan, the potential buyer, after talking with the KING 5 Investigators.
Several Ristick family members drove high-end cars and bought and sold recreational vehicles when they were busted for massive welfare and insurance fraud in the 1990s.
And they were living in upscale Puyallup homes when the KING 5 Investigators first exposed them in 2007.
Stanley Stevens, a Ristick cousin, was one of several family members rolling back the miles on hundreds of cars and selling them on Craigslist.
"No I'm not [rolling back odometers]," said Stanley Stevens, when confronted in 2007. "I'd just like to talk to my lawyer because I don't know what's going on here."
The Wilsons, who planned that charity trip to Mexico, say Stevens and Dino Ristick sold them their RV last month.
Neither the Wilsons' RV or any other vehicle we examined recently showed evidence of an odometer rollback.
What is perhaps most astonishing about this is that authorities have known about this crime ring for years. In 2005 police first presented a case to Pierce County Prosecutors. In 2007, after our story, the Federal Department of Transportation launched an investigation. Yet, after more than four years, the crime ring is still preying on unsuspecting buyers.
We asked the justice department why federal agents haven't taken any action against this crime ring. A spokesperson in Washington D.C. had no comment.
Now, even lives may be at stake - lives that depend on donated medical equipment.
The charity mission to Mexico will happen, but Dan and Maye Wilson don't know when they'll have the money to ready their RV for the 3,000 mile ride.